2019 has arrived! Let's not talk about new year resolutions, because I want to talk about superfoods. As long as you have the intention to eat healthier, superfoods are the answer. Most of these superfoods should fit in with most diets and whatever workout you have in your action plan.
Over the past year, I have gradually incorporated various superfoods into my diet, like adding a teaspoon of maca powder into my coffee and sprinkling cacao nibs into my yoghurt. I can feel the surge of energy since embarking on this new food journey. The changes were subtle at first but I could feel the transformation and a different take on food choices compared to 12 months ago. That's why I am so keen to share the great stuff with you.
What are Superfoods?
First of all, I'd like to come clean and tell you that "superfood" is not a defined term and is not scientifically proven. It is not medicine. It is simply food - naturally grown, whole, nutrient-dense food loaded with vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants and phytonutrients. It is food that is beneficial for your health. When you see a superfood, you will recognise one. Here are some of the characteristics of superfoods:
Mostly raw with little to no processing
Contain lots of fibre
Unsweetened or naturally lightly sweet
Our ancestors have been eating them for centuries
What Our Ancestors Ate
Notice that superfoods are nothing new, they are mostly fresh fruits and vegetables that don't require any packaging. For example, avocados, bananas and coconuts all come in their own skin as packaging. Most superfoods such as apples, broccoli, chocolate and berries have been part of our diet around the world for centuries. It is true that most of what we eat today is farmed on an industrial scale but this is as close as we can get as naturally-grown, nutrient-rich, whole food.
Avocado is a healthy source of fat and also rich in folate and vitamin K. Health benefits include lower blood pressure, higher cognitive function, reduction in bad cholesterol and lower risk of cancer. Many people don't realise that avocado is high in fibre (7%), and higher than both apples (2.4%) and bananas (2.6%). You don't need to waste money on organic avocados, because conventionally grown avocados are relatively low in pesticides. Check out the Clean Fifteen vegetables that are least contaminated with pesticides.
Açaí, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries are all great sources of antioxidants, fibre, vitamin C and vitamin K. The richer the colour, the more antioxidants. Blueberries can help improve brain function, regulate blood sugar and improve your skin and hair. Choose organic over conventional berries because conventional berries are one of the dirty dozen of vegetables most contaminated with pesticides. Read my blog on the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen.
Always go for DARK chocolate with cocoa content of 70% or higher with as little added sugar as possible. Note there is a difference between cacao and cocoa. Raw cacao is much better because it is less processed and a more powerful antioxidant than cocoa. Raw cacao is rich in antioxidants (phenolic phytochemicals, flavonoids) and minerals (magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, copper and manganese). Key benefits include lower inflammation, lower blood pressure, lower risk of cardiovascular disease and lower insulin resistance. Cacao nibs are a great substitute for chocolate chips. You can bake with cacao nibs but remember heating cacao reduces the nutrient content and antioxidant effect.
These include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale and turnips are excellent source of fibre, vitamins A, C and K, and phytochemicals. Health benefits include improved immunity, digestion, lower inflammation and reduced risk of cancer.
Goji berries are used in traditional Chinese medicine and commonly found in Chinese cooking. I have grown up drinking Chinese soups with goji so it is almost strange to see their growing popularity in the west. Goji berries are highly regarded for their anti-aging and anti-cancer properties. They are rich in selenium, iron, riboflavin and vitamin C, which help to boost immune and nervous systems. Dried goji berries are a great addition to trail mixes of nuts and seeds.
Maca powder is my new favourite as a powerhouse to support my marathon training. Maca is a traditional food from the Peruvian Andes and is known to improve energy levels, vitality and stamina. I usually add a teaspoon to my morning matcha or coffee three times a week.
Salmon is an oily fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, high in B vitamins, potassium and selenium. Salmon can help reduce inflammation, lower the risk of heart disease and improve brain health. Remember that wild-caught salmon is better than organic, and organic is only slightly better than farmed.
Sweet potato is high in fibre, potassium, manganese, vitamin A and vitamin C, which helps to boost our immune function, reduce inflammation, regulate blood sugar level and support the nervous system. Sweet potato is versatile. Try microwave if you are lazy, or toss baked or roasted potatoes into salads, or turn it into a soup or casserole.
Hemp, Chia and Flax
Hemp contains all nine essential amino acids but no phytic acid (an antinutrient), making it a fantastic source of protein for vegans. Hemp seed is also rich in iron, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium and a healthy omega-3 and omega 6 fatty acid balance. Chia is also excellent source of fibre, magnesium and phosphorus. Key benefits include better digestion, greater energy levels, blood sugar regulation and improved brain function. Flaxseed is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which helps to reduce inflammation and great for skin and hair. Like hemp, flax also contains plenty of protein, and fibre, high in magnesium, phosphorus and manganese. Flax is a great choice for gluten-free cooking and baking.
Spirulina is blue-green, spiral-shaped micro-algae and a top vegetarian source of complete protein (contains all essential amino acids) and vitamin B12. Spirulina is also rich in vitamins (A, B, C, E, and K), minerals (potassium, calcium, chromium, copper, iron and magnesium) and phytonutrients. Key benefits include protection against allergic reactions, lower bad cholesterol, improved immune function and reduced risk of cancer.
Chlorella is a spherical-shaped green algae grown in fresh water and contains the highest amount of chlorophyll than any known plant. Chlorella has a fast growth rate (quadrupling every 20-24 hours) and can help repair damage to nerve tissues and cell production. Chlorella is rich protein, vitamins (B, C, D, E and K) and minerals (phosphorus, calcium, zinc, magnesium and iron). Chlorella can help with hormonal function, cardiovascular health and detoxifying.
What I am showing here is only a limited list. There is a wide variety of superfoods out there. So have fun exploring and experimenting with new foods and enjoy the countless health benefits from the superfood trail. Bon Appetit!